Officers worked Thursday to arrest 31 suspects as a result of a seven-month investigation by an undercover Sedalia police officer.
Police served arrest warrants to 24 suspects, including nine who were already in Pettis County Jail on unrelated charges. The total bond amount for all 31 defendants is nearly $9.2 million. Two others were arrested on drug charges through the course of the warrant sweep.
The undercover investigation was a joint effort between the Sedalia Police Department and Missouri Highway Patrol. The patrol had 30 officers, including a SWAT team, in Sedalia to assist with serving the arrest warrants. Two Missouri Water Patrol officers and 13 from the Sedalia Police Department worked to make arrests Thursday.
“I think it’s great the Sedalia Police Department and the Highway Patrol can come together,” said Highway Patrol Sgt. Collin Stosberg. “Now, 31 people are going to be off the streets.”
Officers began making arrests about 7 a.m. Several suspects had sleepy and stunned looks on their face as they were arrested by officers in the late morning hours. Others cried while they sat in the council chambers at City Hall, waiting to be interviewed before being booked into the jail.
The Sedalia Police Department initiated the undercover operation and received assistance from the Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control. An undercover officer, who went by the alias “Erin,” was hired by the department in the spring. Erin, who’s identity was withheld, said she was looking forward to getting in a regular routine after months of being undercover.
“Finally, after all the hard work and seeing them commit these crimes daily, it’s nice to know they are all going to jail now,” she said.
Erin successfully completed 73 purchases of drugs, of which 38 buys took place within 2,000 feet of a school. Five vehicles were forfeited and officers expected enhanced penalties for at least 15 suspects who may have been involved in gang activities.
The majority of the suspects sold drugs to the undercover officer at least three times.
“We wanted to make sure this was somebody regularly doing this,” said Sgt. Phil Stewart, a detective with the police department’s STING Unit.
The drugs purchased by the undercover officer included marijuana, crack, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, morphine, hash oil cake and imitation controlled substance.
Officers named the undercover operation ERIN (Enforcement Response and Interdiction of Narcotics) and focused mostly on street-level drug deals in Sedalia. Citizens had complained to the department about street-level drug deals, which were highly visible to the public.
“It’s very hard to stop something like this that’s going on,” Stewart said. “It’s very hard to watch without being noticed.”
The activity would stop when officers were in the area, and those who were stopped or arrested would have very little or no drugs because they would hide the drugs in abandoned cars in nearby lots. The undercover operation was a solution to the problem, Stewart said.
Erin believes the operation was successful in targeting those street-level dealers.
“I do think the community will see a difference,” she said. “There should be a decline in activity. ... Thirty-one (suspected drug dealers) in this small population is a great number.”
This is the third undercover operation the department has conducted in the past 15 years. The last undercover operation started about 11 years ago. Erin was able to produce an impressive number of defendants for the short period of time she was undercover, said Sedalia Police Chief John DeGonia.
“Usually it takes a lot longer than that,” he said.
Media and city officials gathered for a briefing about 8 a.m. Thursday in City Hall. Stosberg, who is a public information officer with the patrol, reminded the crowd that the arrests were the result of accusations and those arrested had yet to be proven guilty or innocent.
Stewart recognized two citizens who, unbeknownst to them, assisted with the undercover operation. Terry Arnold, of Sedalia Automotive, supplied a car for the undercover officer. State Farm Insurance agent Margaret Bowles allowed officers use of a storage shed, which was used for meetings and paperwork with the undercover officer.